05/21/08 — Golden Falcons move into eastern finals

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Golden Falcons move into eastern finals

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 21, 2008 4:06 PM

PIKEVILLE -- Fighting muscle cramps and blurry vision on a sneakily-hot afternoon, Blake Cooper wiped his brow as he listened to Charles B. Aycock head tennis coach Kevin Coghill.

"Do you really want this Blake?" asked Coghill.

Cooper didn't respond.

"I just thought 'was I going through the motions or did I want to win,'" said Cooper. "It really made me concentrate."

As threatening weather approached and a cool breeze swept through the Golden Falcons' courts, Cooper rallied for a 7-6 (3), 7-5 decision over Eastern Wayne's Chris Knobling. Moments later, fellow Golden Falcon Dylan Quinn completed a straight-set triumph over Will Kastner and secured Aycock's 5-1, third-round playoff victory.

The Golden Falcons (21-2 overall) earned their first-ever trip to the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A eastern dual-team regional championship on Thursday. They'll face the winner of today's match between heavyweights Southern Nash and Western Alamance.

Cooper rushed to a 3-0, opening-set lead only to see Knobling come back and force a tiebreaker.

"Sometimes I kind of lose my head, trying to go for winners instead of staying consistent with him," said Cooper. "He gets back everything and hits some good shots, too. He's really consistent and it's hard to play him."

The lone player to provide a blemish on Cooper's 22-1 singles record this season, Knobling controlled the second set. He pushed Cooper back and forth with short volleys and defensive groundstrokes to keep each game close.

Cooper couldn't seem to find a chink in Knobling's armor.

"Blake and Chris are similar in a lot of ways, and Chris isn't going to give you easy points," said Coghill. "He doesn't have overwhelming power, but he is smart and works his game plan.

"Blake worked his butt off and willed himself to win that match today."

Trailing 5-4 on the changeover, Coghill urged Cooper to hit low shots and bring Knobling into the net. The second-year coach then issued his challenge to motivate Cooper.

One of two seniors in Aycock's starting lineup, Cooper reeled off three straight games to clinch the match.

"Chris has been a bright spot for us (all season), he really has," said Eastern Wayne head coach Nancy Dawson. "The mistakes we made on the court today were within our plan of action. My top four were focused and settled in on their matches."

Top-seeded Drew Jackson contested two-time eastern singles champion Blake Vail from the opening serve. Jackson used the angles well and had good pace on his groundstrokes throughout the match.

Gusty winds affected both players' serves and induced a few double faults. Each seemed to overcome their respective errors and hold serve. Jackson stayed within striking distance early in each set before Vail pulled away for a 6-3, 6-3 win.

"Drew was an entirely different player than he's been all season," said a smiling Dawson. "I don't know if the regionals and states gave him more direction and focus, but he played exceptionally well."

Aycock sophomore Addison Westbrook and fifth-seeded Ben Nichols also logged straight-set victories. Westbrook trailed 2-1 in the second set before defeating David Benton 6-1, 6-2. Nichols shut out the Warriors' Thomas Jackson 6-0, 6-0.

Junior Eric Barnes collected the Warriors' lone singles point. He grabbed a come-from-behind 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 decision over Golden Falcon senior Ben Evans. It was Barnes' second three-set victory over Evans this season.

The county clash marked the final match for Dawson, who plans to retire in January of 2008. She guided the Warriors to back-to-back Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference titles in 2006 and 2007, and four consecutive appearances in the NCHSAA dual-team playoffs.

The players presented Dawson with yellow roses and a signed card.

"It's been a good run," said Dawson.

Aycock claimed its fifth postseason victory in its last six tries.

"Two years ago, if you told me we were going to be playing for the regional championship my senior year, there is no way I'd believe you," said Cooper. "It shows we've put in a lot of hard work."

2008 N.C. High School

Athletic Association

Class 3-A Dual-Team Playoffs

(at C.B. Aycock HS)

C.B. Aycock 5

Eastern Wayne 1

Singles: No. 1 Blake Vail (CBA) d. Drew Jackson 6-3, 6-3; No. 2 Addison Westbrook (CBA) d. David Benton 6-1, 6-2; No. 3 Blake Cooper (CBA) 7-6 (3), 7-5; No. 4 Eric Barnes (EW) d. Ben Evans 3-6, 6-3, 10-8; No. 5 Ben Nichols (CBA) d. Thomas Jackson 6-0, 6-0; No. 6 Dylan Quinn (CBA) d. Will Kastner 6-1, 6-2.

Doubles: Not contested.

Records: C.B. Aycock 21-2, Eastern Wayne 14-6.

Next match: Thursday, C.B. Aycock vs. TBD.